Affiliations with Diddy, Rick Ross and Max B have all been credited as being central to the rise of French Montana. Less recognized is French’s association and chemistry with Brooklyn-bred producer Harry Fraud, who ironically may be his most important collaborator to date. Many early fans of French were first hipped to his music after hearing Fraud-produced records like “New York Minute” and “Shot Caller.” Following those early collaborations, the two have continued to build a respected catalogue of bangers together, and it is of no surprise that French has called on Fraud to executive produce his forthcoming sophomore album, Mac & Cheese 4. “We know what the best of each other looks like and sounds like, because we’ve been there from the beginning,” says Fraud, of the synergy he shares with the rapper he credits for helping to develop his sound.”If we can extract the best out of each other and put it all on an album, that’s a classic right there?”
Creating dope sounds for French Montana hasn’t been the only thing keeping Harry Fraud busy as of late. The producer responsible for productions for an array of artists like Juicy J, Pusha T, The Weeknd, Ab-Soul, Talib Kweli, Action Bronson and Curren$y, is now expanding his reach beyond producing hot beats. He’s been focused on his newly formed record label, SRFSCHL and is ready to introduce the label’s first signee, Daytona to the world. Life + Times caught up with Harry Fraud to talk about how he developed his unique style, his new SRFSCHL label and his work on French Montana’s Mac & Cheese 4.
Life + Times: How did you get into production?
Harry Fraud: I come from a family of musical people. When I was growing up my parents had a band. My mother was a singer and my father was a guitar player. He also worked in the concert business, so I always had access to recording stuff and instruments. Music started to become more of a part of my life when I got to high school. One year for Christmas I had gotten some turntables and I started fucking with those. The next year I had gotten this piece of shit sampler and started working with that. It was like figuring out how to produce with whatever equipment I had, but then I had gotten a MPC, which is one of those pieces that unlocks the world for you. It’s like if you’re a painter and you never had colored paint before, but now you have all of these colors to work with. That’s what the MPC is like. This was when I started really making beats. I was around 18 or 19 around that time.
L+T: How did your sound began to develop?
HF: I first linked up with French Montana in like 2008 or 2009 and in those early days, he really pushed me a lot to create my own sound. He just saw the greater potential in what I was doing. He had been around all these dudes who made good beats and stuff, but at that time things were really stagnant production wise. New York beats sounded like New York beats and Atlanta beats sounded like Atlanta beats, but I was just making music. I didn’t give a shit about a New York sound or a down south sound, so what I had been playing him was different from what he had been hearing from a lot of the other producers. I just had to figure out how to make sure my beats could still hang with the other stuff that he had. Let’s say he had a Swizz Beatz track. You couldn’t put my weirdo shit next to a Swizz beat if my drums weren’t hitting hard like how the Swizz beat was hitting. That’s what pushed me. I wanted to make sure my records were hanging with the stuff from these bigger producers. That’s what solidified my sound as it is today.
L+T: You mentioned some of the recent trends in production. What has kept you inspired to stay in your own creative lane, while many other producers have been stuck chasing those trends for success?
HF: To be honest, those trends inspired me, but in a weird way. Not in the sense of the hottest beat is Rick Ross’ “BMF,” so I’m going to make all my beats sound like “BMF.” These trends push me to figure out how to sonically sit here, without having to chase a sound or chase the club or chase the radio. As long as my stuff always hits hard and is sonically of a certain caliber, no one can tear me down. I just stick to my instincts. I also just try to keep in mind the artist I’m producing for.
L+T: Your production has a very New York feel to it. Why do you think that is?
HF: I just think that’s natural. I’m from Brooklyn. I’m not a transplant from Ohio, who moved to Williamsburg. This is really me. I really grew up on the block. The New York attitude, spirit and soul are just engrained in me. There’s a certain urgency in my drums and a certain emotional feeling in the samples and the sounds that I use. My instincts are to lend myself to that urgency. I think that all comes from this subconscious embodiment of where I’m from. I’m a New Yorker for real. I might embarrass myself by being too New York sometimes, to the point where people are like, “Yo, chill!” [laughs] But it is who I am.
L+T: How has French Montana evolved as an artist since you two first started working together?
HF: I think he figured out how to package the music. He figured out how to take those things that he was doing, put those things into these mainstream-ass songs and mold them to fit what’s currently going on in the marketplace, but still be him. French was always talented and focused. He’s also a sponge, so being in the studio with so many talented people like Diddy, Kanye and Ross has helped French learn how to craft these songs. For instance, French always had a different take on melody. He approaches the melody for a song differently than anybody else. I’ve seen him sharpen that skill to the point that he can write a hit song in thirty minutes. The things other guys are pulling their hair out to do, he’s doing effortlessly. He’s always had it. I’ve just seen him magnify it to 1,000 times what it was. He’s become a superhero version of himself.
L+T: What was the conversation like when you and French decided that you’d be an executive producer on his upcoming Mac & Cheese 4 album?
HF: We’ve always talked about doing a project that was just me and him. We both always wanted to do it, but sometimes the business gets in the way, not the business between us, but the music business and expectations of what people want, so it never came to fruition. I’ve always had a kind of executive production role in the mixtape side of things, especially with Coke Boys 2 and Mister 16: Casino Life. I had a really strong executive production role with those mixtapes, in terms of getting everything together, mixing the whole thing and making sure everything was right. For Mac & Cheese 4 he wanted to throw it back to that, as opposed to what his last album was. His last album was a shiny, showy affair, but with this he wanted to get back to the soul and grit of things, so it was just kind of a no brainer that I be heavily involved this time around. One thing about me is that I’m not a yes-man. I’m never ever going to tell you what you want to hear, so French knows that what I’m telling him is coming from the right place. It’s a trust thing. He trusts that I ain’t going to let this ship go off course. French basically tapped me like, “Fraud, put your hands on everything,” so for even the records I’m not necessarily producing from scratch, he wants my opinion. One of the things people said about the last album was that our kind of vibe wasn’t really there. He wants people to feel that I’m involved with this album.
L+T: How is the album sounding so far?
HF: I think people can expect to hear what they’ve heard on the previous Mac & Cheese mixtapes, but just amplified and enhanced to another level. The sound is going to have more of a soulful feeling. People don’t know that French Montana as a human being’s story of what he’s been through in life, his journey and how he’s gotten to where he’s at today is incredible. It’s like ten movies. French didn’t stumble into this. He worked for everything and sacrificed so much for this. I think this album is our time to tell that story and the story of who he is. The records are going to reflect that. This record is going to be more of French’s story. I also don’t want anyone to get it fucked up. We aren’t going into the dark-ages. We’ll still have those monster records that are going to shake the club, blow out your speakers and destroy your car system, but at the same time we’re going to surround them and insulate them with records that tell more of French Montana’s story. To me, if this album ends up being what we’re envisioning for it, people are going to be floored. They’re going to be surprised that this kid has so many different layers of depth to him.
L+T: I’ve never really been a big fan of French’s music, but I’m definitely interested in hearing what he has to offer with this next album.
HF: The thing is a lot of people like his music, but they don’t necessarily respect his pen game as much as they should. I think this album will make them respect his pen game more. He was just in France and I texted him one of his lines from a song we just did, because he killed it. People are going to fall over when they hear this shit. I can’t wait for people to hear him really spitting. People don’t put French in that lyricist category. I don’t think they’re going to put him in the lyrical miracle category yet either, but I definitely think they are going to respect his pen game a lot more after this album.
L+T: Although you and French have worked together extensively on the mixtape circuit, Mac & Cheese 4 will be the first major label album you two have collaborated on. Has how you’ve approached this album been different from how you’ve approached the previous mixtapes?
HF: Honestly, we’ve always worked the same way. We’ve always been very personal and family-like with each other. None of that has changed. Nothing has changed as far as the process either. Obviously, the expectations have changed. There’s an added level of expectation being that this is a major label project. That’s cool, but that isn’t going to change our process with making music. Even if you go back to those mixtapes you’ll see that they were albums. French wasn’t rapping over twenty industry beats. We crafted songs for those tapes. They were just called mixtapes, because they didn’t have a fucking Bad Boy Records logo on them and they had a DJ talking on a few tracks. The one thing we’re focused on this time is no filler. If there’s a song that is doubtable for any reason, it ain’t going on the album. We’ve been collecting a lot of music, so now it’s about going in and sharpening the edges to things and making sure everything is bulletproof. It’s no time for filler. It’s all killer.
L+T: You’re also currently working on a compilation album. Tell us a little about that.
HF: Just to clarify, I’m not working on a Harry Fraud album right now. I will at some point. This compilation is to brand SRFSCHL as a label that is going to bring people good music all the time. It’s also a way to showcase SRFSCHL artists and have them around many of the other artists I work with. The compilation is going to have everyone from Daytona to Kurupt to Vince Staples to Riff Raff, you know what I’m saying?
L+T: What is SRFSCHL?
HF: The SRFSCHL label comes from the concept of what Max B brought to the light with “the wave” and his philosophy and what me and French have been carrying on. It also kind of came out of me being into surfing. I feel like people get a lot of influence off of the stuff we do. We’re teaching people how to ride the wave anyway, just off of them listening to our music. I’m a deeply philosophical person, so SRFSCHL has since taken on many different meanings [laughs].
L+T: When looking for new talent to add to your SRFSCHL label, what are some of things you look for in an artist?
HF: I’m looking for individuality. Something that’s very important to me is a strong work ethic. I put in more hours in the studio than most guys. That’s just where I’d rather spend most of our time. I just love creating. You don’t necessarily have to be a studio rat, but you have to have a dedicated work ethic. I’m really into developing my artists like how the old school record labels would do. I’m putting time in producing their records and building them a sound, so I’m looking for people that are looking to put that work in with me. I also have to be able to vibe with you on a human level, because I have to be around you.
L+T: So far, who’s on the SRFSCHL roster that we should be checking for?
HF: I’m really excited about Daytona. With Daytona, I feel he’s gotten a certain level of exposure, but he’s never fully realized his potential as a songwriter and a song crafter. He’s a guy who has had a run, but never has had that run that he deserves. He’s a great artist, loves to work and can actually rap.
L+T: You’re known for your collaborative projects with artists like Action Bronson, Smoke DZA and Curren$y. Is there one artist that you have yet to work with that you would love to produce an entire project for?
HF: JAY Z. I don’t even have to think twice about it. If I could play ball with somebody one-on-one I would want to play Michael Jordan. If I could make rap music with someone it has to be the best rapper. There’s no question who the best rapper is. JAY is just that guy. To produce a whole project for him would be unbelievable.